Photo by Richard Smith
The walls surrounding the VICE UK offices are like nectar to a hummingbird for graffiti artists. I guess it's our fault for having an office on the route of seemingly every street art walking tour in London, but it's impossible to get into work without seeming some hamfisted political statement thrown up on a wall between an ad-agency and the development site of a forthcoming Byron burger.
On Noisey: We Interviewed A Bunch of Black Metal Cats
Over time you become immune to the Mickey Mouses with Enron-logo eyes and "Capitalism" written in the shape of the Coca-Cola logo. But today I saw one of the worst bits of graffiti I have ever seen, on the wall of the sandwich shop around the corner. This is graffiti so bad that it needs to be deeply, deeply analyzed, graffiti so bad we maybe need to question whether graffiti as a concept is now over, that it is resolutely dead, that from now on we should ban graffiti, not because it is anti-social or affects housing prices or any other ridiculous reason for being dismayed by graffiti, but because graffiti is Extremely Bad And Must Be Stopped.
I mean, just look at the state of this:
Yeah: That's a starved-looking kid in a tin bathtub holding an Oscar. Yeah: That's a social commentary on the whitewashing of the Oscars. You hear that, the Academy? Do you fucking hear this piece of stenciled graffiti on the side of a sandwich shop in east London? A sandwich shop called B.L.T., or Big, Loaded, Tasty, which sadly closed late last year because gentrification is the greatest threat to our bacon sandwiches since foot and mouth? Do you even consult what is spray-painted on the side of a closed down and sorely missed sandwich shop in London when you announce your nominations?Did you even stop to consider that a graffiti artist called Pegasus would take two hours and several carefully taped up bits of printed-at-home stenciling to blow your white little insular world apart? No you didn't. But I did.
So let us dive into the tin bathtub of this so-blunt-it's-like-opening-a-can-of-beans-with-a-baseball-bat artistic message, here, and consider: What is it saying? Who is it for? And how close is the graffiti artist Pegasus to a coffee table book and a popular range of mugs and posters?
THE DECISION TO TURN THE "S" IN "OSCAR" INTO A DOLLAR SIGN
If you thought this was just a searing indictment of the racial inequality in this year's key Oscars nominations for this key awards then you'd be wrong, idiot. Lean in and look closely, get near it and squint: the s in "Oscars" has been—ever so subtly—transformed into a dollar sign with the addition of a single stroke, blowing your tiny fool mind to pieces. You can see Pegasus, at home, with his copy of Photoshop and his laser printer, can't you? Hmm, he's thinking, How can I make this piece of wall art even more woke? And then it hits him: The Oscars are about money. Films are about money. Money is bad. Dollars are the American money. Maybe there is a way to dilute this extremely basic entry-level opinion about the Oscars. Maybe there is a way to distract from the core message that is dominating Oscar-related headlines and throw in a little jab about the fine American dollar in there too. Maybe there is a way to make the Academy aware that we are onto it and its money-liking ways. And he selects the s, and goes to the font drop down, and—ever so slowly—changes it to a $. "Heh," Pegasus says. "Boom."
THE NEED FOR A CAPTION IN THE FIRST PLACE
There is a reason nobody on earth likes political cartoons, and that is because they are essentially all diagrams of a hand holding a hammer with the label "THE BAD THING" and then something that is being squashed by the hammer—migrant family, favored political leader of the newspaper in question, a puppy—labeled "THE GOOD THING," all against an inexplicable desert background, and then you look at that and go: Ah, I see now how the bad thing is in opposition to the good thing, and now I understand thoroughly this complex political issue. And there is a big cartoonist signature on the bottom, all faux ink splotches and a self-given nickname like "Jarv." Wait, look, I can do one myself:
With apologies to Bill Day
This stencil situation is the political cartoon in graffiti form. Pegasus looked upon his child-in-a-bath-with-a-useless-Oscar vista and thought: "Ah but... but what if people don'tgetit? People are dumb, right. I will add a caption that completely explains the joke."
IN WHICH WE BRIEFLY CONSIDER THE LOADED CHOICE TO USE A JAY Z LYRIC FOR THE CAPTION, A DECISION THAT we CAN ONLY ASSUME WAS MADE AFTER GOOGLING "BLACK SINGER FAMOUS LYRICS"
"What other ones could I use... uh. Ba–a–by, I'm hot just like an Oscar. No. If you like it then you should have handed an Oscar to i—no. Straight out of Compton, a crazy motherfucker named Osc—no. Ah, wait: got it!"
Why do I even care about this in the first place? I suppose because my life is very empty, and I get mad at dumb things. Plus: I do have to walk past it at least once a day, sometimes twice. I saw the dude doing it, yesterday on my lunch hour, and could just tell it was going to be bad—he was stopping to talk to passersby, with a grin that said, "Yeah, I am painting some searing fucking satire onto a once-beloved sandwich shop wall, do you wanna see my stencils," and a smile that said, "Oh buddy, I am definitely aware that I am breaking the law right now"—and lo and behold, it was.
But maybe I am mad at this flawed idea that graffiti can make a point anymore. There was a new Banksy this week, and the reaction was either attempting to pry the Banksy off the wall and sell it, or saying things like, "This Banksy is really important and definitely makes a point," and, "Banksy = good, imo!," or rolling your eyes so hard you have to go to a special ophthalmic hospital.
That's sort of the thing: The trend for open-your-eyes-sheeple graffiti is so often placed at the intersection between "extremely trite, first week of a politics AS Level" and "D in GCSE art," and it's sort of annoying we have to look at it because it's on that sandwich shop right by work. I understand graffiti where people just write their name really big on a train. There is ego to that, hubris, arrogance, and a sort of empty blank mind beauty: The simple truth that, given a can of paint and a writing surface and some time alone to put the can of the paint on the writing surface, most people will default to just scrawling their own name really massively. But a kid in a bathtub with an Oscar and a caption explaining the unlikelihood of said Oscar kid relationship and a dollar sign on the s because money is bad? No. Extremely awful and bad.
Well, anyway, what do I know? I'm no art critic. From Pegasus's own website: "His stenciled pieces play with popular culture's most recognizable icons, such as Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and I love Lucy, and are sometimes ironic or controversial." Also: "Alexandra Burke, the chart-topping singer who won X Factor in 2008, was presented personally with a bespoke painting by Pegasus while she celebrated her 25th birthday. The Daily Mail called the canvas a 'Banksy-esque piece,' which sees Burke in full American Football regalia with the words 'Fresh on it.'" You cannot question the man's legitimacy. Until I have prepared a custom piece of online content for the birthday of a formerly notable X Factor winner, I can't say shit. But Pegasus has got inside my head with his Oscars criticism. He has made me think about graffiti and actually engage with it as though it is in any way good or legitimate. He has made me deface a political cartoon to make a weak point. To that end, he has already won. With his paint stained fingers and his specially ordered plastic stencil sheets, he has already won. And to that I say: Well played, Pegasus. Well played.
Follow Joel on Twitter.